Judge ‘created a path to move forward’ on Montanore, Hecla official says at town meeting

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About a dozen people on Monday attended a meeting held by Hecla Mining Company representatives and others to discuss the status of the company’s proposed Montanore mine project south of Libby.

The 7 p.m. meeting at the Venture Inn was to get community feedback on a late May court decision regarding the project as well as an opportunity to let people know where things stand, said organizer Bruce Vincent.

“We believe it’s constructive look at how we as a community can move forward,” he said.

Luke Russell, vice president of external affairs for Hecla, echoed Vincent’s “disappointed but not surprised” reaction to U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy’s decisions requiring more work of both the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

On May 30 Molloy ruled the Forest Service violated the Clean Water Act, the Forest Service Organic Act of 1897, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it approved Hecla’s Montanore mine project in February 2016. He also ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by insufficiently assessing how the mine would effect bull trout and grizzly bears.

However, Russell added, “(Molloy’s) order a couple weeks ago created a path to move forward.”

In one of two rulings made June 29, Molloy both vacated the Forest Service’s February 2016 decision to approve the Montanore Mine Project and set aside and remanded to the agency its 2016 Record of Decision and 2015 Joint Final Environmental Impact Statement “for further action as outlined in the May 2017 Opinion and Order.”

In the other June 29 ruling, Molloy both vacated the Forest Service’s and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decisions to approve the Montanore Mine Project and set aside and remanded to the latter agency its 2014 Biological Opinions and 2016 Record of Decision “for further action as outlined in the May 2017 Opinion and Order.”

Russell previously reported that the latter rulings were “essentially along the lines” of the former rulings. At Monday’s meeting, he said Molloy’s rulings “gave the agencies the flexibility to do what they believe is right.”

Much of the discussion centered around the need for the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to prioritize the work that needs to be done to move the Montanore mine project further down the permitting process. What slows the process, Russell and Vincent said, was primarily insufficient staffing.

“We need to know what they need to get the job done,” Vincent said.

“Quickly,” Russell added.

To encourage the process and indicate to the agencies the importance of the project to the Libby area, Vincent noted that a local delegation — including Vincent, County Commissioner Jerry Bennett, Libby Schools Superintendent Craig Barringer, Tina Oliphant of Lincoln County Port Authority and Kootenai River Development Council and Morrison Elementary Principal Diane Rewerts — would soon travel to Washington D.C. to influence who it could.

Russell, in addition to noting his optimism of a clear path forward on the Montanore mine project, also said that Molloy’s latest ruling in regard to Hecla’s Rock Creek mine was “almost a recipe for success” in how it laid out a process for the agencies to follow in moving along that project.

Wrapping up the meeting, Vincent said “we have the right partner as a community” in Hecla Mining Company.

“We are fully committed to Montanore,” Russell said.

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